Buffalo Sabres Goalie Prospects: Mid Season Report Card

By pbadmin
This report will eventually cover every single Sabres prospect. It will serve
as my mid season report card on every player with Buffalo system. I will also
include detailed reports on several of Buffalo younger player, those who are
with the Sabres but are still in the developmental stage of their careers.
Each report will give as detailed a description as possible of the player, his
style, strengths, and weakness, plus how Buffalo acquired him. I will grade
out each player and access their potential as a future NHL player. I will
also provide, as up to date as possible, the players current seasonal
statistics. Lastly, I will report on player in alphabetical order. This is
in no way a ranking order of the team prospects. I will do at a later date.

When I refer to each players NHL future, you will see “time will tell” quite
often. Please bare in mind, some players are still several years, at best,
away from playing in the league and it is impossible for me, or anyone else
for that matter, to accurately predict what will happen to that player.


Star rating read as follows:
5 stars = Superstar potential
4 stars = A First Rate NHL player. Above average player
3 stars = Good NHL future. An average NHL player.
2 stars = Good minor league player. A below average NHL player.
1 star = Career minor leaguer. Emergency NHL help.


I’m going to break down the reports by positions, this should prevent everyone
from getting overwhelmed by the amount of information. Today we will start
with Buffalo five goaltending prospects.

1/5/98

Goalies:      size     age    location:                Mid Season Rating

Mike Bales 6-1 180 26 Rochester (AHL) 2 ½ stars

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in Summer of 1997

Stats look: as of 1/4/98

17 gm 935 min 3.27 gga .892 save %
7-7-1 0 shutouts 423-474 shots saved/shots faced

Mike Bales was signed last summer for the simple purpose of allowing Buffalo
to have a veteran backup available, just in case of injuries. The team also
felt that prospect Martin Biron would benefit from having some friendly
competition, someone who would push him for Rochester’s starting job. Mike
has actually out performed Martin but Buffalo invested a first round pick in
Biron and they are giving him the bulk of the work hoping he will return to
his pre-draft form.

Mike has accepted his role and that could benefit him in the future. It is
likely he will move on next season to another club, as Buffalo should feel
stronger about Biron plus prospect Scott Bulher will likely be brought into
Rochester next season. However, he has played well enough, and if Steve
Shields is lost in the expansion draft, don’t be surprised to see Bales in a
Buffalo uniform for 98-99.

Bales is a combination butterfly, stand up keeper. He is not all that big, so
like most goaltenders today, he tries to take away the bottom of the net,
forcing players to shot high. He is not an overly aggressive keeper when it
comes to challenging shooters. His biggest strength as far as I can tell, is
his veteran understanding of the game. He rarely gets rattled in bad
situations. His biggest weakness is lack of aggressive goaltending, average
stick handling and average rebound control.

As stated before, Bales NHL career may depend on the upcoming expansion
drafts. Many feel Buffalo will lose Steve Shields, as very promising younger
goalie. Martin Biron is simply not ready for the NHL. Therefore Buffalo may
keep this veteran goalie, and have him serve as Domink Hasek’s backup down the
road. However, Bales will never amount to any thing more. He is a good AHL
goalie and someone who will continue to find employment simply because he can
play in the NHL if the situation is needed. He is an asset to any
organization.

NHL Future: His future in Buffalo will depend on expansion draft

Martin Biron 6-1 160 20 Rochester (AHL) 2 ½ stars

Acquired: 1995 First round draft pick, selected 16th overall as Buffalo’s 1B
pick.

Stats look: as of 1/4/98

17 gm 990 min 3.51 gga .889 save %
5-8-1 1 shutout 466-524 shots saved/shots faced

Martin Biron was rated as the best goalie in the 1995 draft. He has slipped
massively since that day. His troubles may have began on a December night in
late 1995. Buffalo having suffered massive injuries to their goaltendling
ranks, they decided to call up the Beauport junior player on an emergency
recall. His opponent that night, the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins. Lemieux,
Jagr and company proceeded to rape Martin, scoring four goals in the first
period. He has never been the same player since.

Last year, Martin played the role of junior hockey backup, first in Beauport,
then in Hull. Buffalo made the decision that he would be Rochester’s number
one goalie this season long before it even began.. They knew all too well,
that he had practically lost a year of development and if they want any return
on their investment he must play a lot of hockey this year. So far he has
been very inconsistent. He struggled badly early in the season. The he got
hot in late November and early December. Since then he has struggled again.
His long term future is still very much in doubt. Buffalo may have had that
in mind in June, when they drafted a goalie in the first round of the 1997
draft.

Martin is a classic butterfly goalie. Though Martin is tall, he is rail thin.
Therefore he does not block as much of the net as you would like. His biggest
strength is his understanding of playing angles. His biggest weakness has
been very poor rebound control and poor concentration. He has given up far
too many soft goalies this season.

Martin Biron may or may not have an NHL future. It is still far too early to
tell. However, I feel it is safe to say that he will never develop into a
dominating NHL starter. He may someday hold the title as starting NHL goalie,
but I can not see him ever being a true number one guy. Maybe he will play
through these tough times and emerge as a stronger player, both physically and
mentality. Time will tell us that, though, he must block out all outside
distraction and ignore talk of Mika Norinen being Buffalo’s true future NHL
goalie.

NHL Future: Still up in the air, though he does possess all the talent.

Scott Buhler 5-11 169 19 Medicine Hat (WHL) 2 stars

Stats Look: as of 1/3/98

27gm 1558 min 4.04 gga 0.887 save %
8-16-2 0 shutouts 822-927 shots saved/shots faced

Acquired: 1996 Ninth round draft pick, 222nd overall.

Scott Bulher has struggled this year in junior hockey. However it should be
noted that his team, Medicine Hat, is a very poor club. They do not have much
in terms of quality junior talent and the possess a very bad defensive unit.
This has hurt Scott’s number but hopefully not his confidence. Rebound, and
far too many quality scoring chances has been his undoing this year, though
there isn’t much he can do to stop teams from getting quality chances.

Scott looked very good in training camp this year, better than I or most
people expected. Throughout much of the camp, he was outperforming Martin
Biron. Though both young goalies played exceptional in Buffalo prospects
games against Toronto. His biggest hindrance, as far as his future with
Buffalo, may be the fact that the team spend first round picks on goalies in
both 1995 and 1997.

Scott is a smaller guy, and that certainly doesn’t help him much. However, he
is fairly thick for his size and he cover quite a bit of the net. He is a
combination stand-up and butterfly keeper. Like most goalies today, he takes
away the bottom half of the net as bast he can. However, he doesn’t have the
tremendous flexibility as other goalies. Therefore he has trouble spreading
covering all the low area. His biggest strength is a strong glove hand and
good rebound control. His biggest weakness his poor stick handling and bad
position from time to time.

Scott’s NHL future is still several year away at best. By the time he is
ready to play in the NHL, there will be thirty teams in league. With at least
sixty goaltending positions available, Scott may find a spot somewhere in the
league for him, whether that is in Buffalo is not, time will tell.

NHL Future: Let’s just wait and see.

Mika Norinen 6-1 191 18 Tappara (Finland) 4 stars

Acquired: 1997 First Round draft pick, 21st overall.

Stats look: as of 1/4/98

Tappara (Finland) 21gm 1201min 2.85gga 0.882 save %
11-8-2 1 shutout 425-482 shots saved/shots faced

Team Finland (WJC) 5gm 313min 1.53gga 0.933save%
5-0-0 0 shutouts

111-119 shots saved/shots faced
Mika was named Second Team All Tournament Goalie for the 1998 World Junior
championships.

When Buffalo announced it’s selection back in June I literally cringed. Well
it is save to say, I was wrong, very wrong! Mika Norinen just came off a
stellar World Junior Championships performance. He helped Finland win the
gold metal and he was named the outstanding goalie for tournament following
five tremendous showings. He has also played extremely well as the primary
starter for Tappara, a good Finish Elite league team. Not bad for a 18 year
old kid.
I am very tempted to label Mika a five star prospect, however, I do not want
it to appear as if I’m over touting a player, so I’ll show some restraint and
not do that.

I really have no idea whether Mika Norinen will be a great NHL goalie. Though
from everything I’ve seen and read, I’d now be stunned if he didn’t turn out
to be one of the best European goalies to ever hit the NHL. Mika is a big
guy. He is a pure stand-up goalie and most scouts feel he is very similar to
Sean Burke. Once you see him play, you quickly see those similarities. He
controls rebound very well. His positioning and willingness to challenge
shooters is excellent. His quickness and flexibility are both good.

Mika’s biggest strength, and it tough to pick one strength over another, is
his size and how he uses it to take away the entire net. Though he does show
more of the lower parts of the net compared to the butterfly goalies, his size
really leaves shooters with little to fire at. Mika’s biggest weakness is
similar to all European goalies. He doesn’t handle the puck well. Beyond
that, he really doesn’t have any serious weaknesses.

Mika has a dominate NHL future ahead of him. It appears as if, though it is
still too early to project, that Mika could be an NHL superstar. He has all
the tools you look for in a great goalie. Much like Domink Hasek, Norinen has
a big ego, and he seems to thrive on the pressure, as he showed in the World
Junior Championships. He began to play better as Finland advanced further in
the tournament. In the finals he was practically flawless. He didn’t give
out any bad rebound and he rarely gave Russia a second chance to shot. If he
is put behind a solid defense, he will rise to the top.

NHL Future: Borderline Superstar.

Steve Shields 6-3 210 25 Buffalo (NHL) 3 stars

stats look: as of 1/4/98

Buffalo (NHL) 8 gm 405min 2.96 gga .898 save %
1-4-2 0 shutouts 176-196 shots
saved/shots faced

Rochester (AHL) 1gm 59 min 3.05 gga .900 save %
0-1-0 0 shutouts 27-30 shots saved/shots faced

Acquired: 1991 Fifth Round pick, 101st overall.

Steve Shields has emerged as one of those surprise players. Selected out of
Michigan University in 1991, Steve Shields appear to have a good professional
future. However, Steve wasn’t prepared to be a professional after he joined
Buffalo in 1994. He didn’t work hard and he though he could just get by, the
way he had in college. Being sent to South Carolina of the ECHL served as a
huge wake up call. Steve spent much of the 94-95′ and 95-96′ seasons in the
East Coast league. After Rochester had suffered a few injuries he was called
up late in the campaign. He proceeded to lead Rochester to a Calder Cup
Championship and it was this playoff stretch that put him back in Buffalo’s
mind.

Note: Steve Shields played for Rochester (AHL) on 1/4/98. The game was played
in Buffalo, so the big club though it would be a good chance for him to see
some game action. He was note “sent down to the minors”, he was merely used
as an emergency goalie following a sudden injury to Mike Bales.

Last year he took over the back up role mid-season and he ended up being
Buffalo’s number one goalie for much of the 1997 playoff run after Hasek went
down. He proved he was more than a capable NHL back up. Actually he has
emerged as one of the top potential expansion picks if he left unprotected in
next year expansion draft.

Steve is a combination stand-up, butterfly goalie. Though his style is
changing everyday. This is happening because of the influence of his mentor,
Domink Hasek. Shields has admitted that he simply does thing that he sees
Hasek do because if they work for him, they can work for me. Like many
goalies now, Steve will drop his stick, and pick up the puck with his blocker
hand rather than risk trying to trap it under his glove hand. Hasek was the
first to do this and it has proven an effective tool. Steve has also become
more of a “flopping” goalie in the last year. By flopper, I mean a guy who
drops to the ice and literally flops around blocking various areas of the net.
However, Shields will never be another Hasek, we will likely never see another
one of him.

Since Steve is so big, he often opens up a huge hole between his legs when he
tries to go into the butterfly. Therefore, Sabres coaches want him to play
more in the stand-up style, though no one is really complaining about the way
Steve has played.

Steve’s biggest strength is his size. At 6-3, and over 210 pounds, Steve eats
up a ton of the net. Standing up and challenging the shooter, leaves no room
to fire the puck. However, he can be slow to challenge a shooter and these
slow reactions can get him into trouble. His biggest weakness is consistency,
though when you are playing being the NHL best regular season goalie, you
don’t get much of a chance to play on a regular basis. Steve has played only
once since Thanksgiving. Another key weakness, which is also related to
playing time, is poor control of rebounds. Since he rarely plays, he tends to
give out too many quality rebounds early in his games. Once he settles down,
and gets into a rhythm, the fat rebounds stop.

Steve has a long NHL career in front of him. Right now, it is as a backup.
Next year it could very well be a Nashville’s number one guy. Or maybe as a
co-number one. If Buffalo protects him, it will surely only be for this
year, and then he’ll get strong looks form Atlanta. Also with Martin Biron
and Mika Norien is the system, two number one picks, Buffalo may trade Shields
to make room for one. If I was running the team, I would allow him to be lost
in the expansion draft and get nothing in return. I’d trade him, because he
is a young promising, but proven player. His 1997 playoff experience made his
trade value sore. It may be higher than it is right now.

NHL Future: Very Good, somewhere.